Zusman Segalovitsh describes the immense flight movement in Poland, September 1939

On the night of September 5-6, 1939, only a few days after the German attack on Poland, a group of Jewish journalists and writers decided to leave Warsaw for the East at the behest of the Polish government in order to escape the German advance. Among them was Zusman Segalovitsh (1884-1949), who was mesmerized by the immense flight movements by land in Poland in 1939 towards the East.

דער צוג שטײט, דער מאַשיניסט מיטן הײצער שלאָפֿן אויפֿן גראָז. קײן אַעראָפּלאַנען זעט מען נישט. רואיק אַרום. רואיק און לאַנגװײליק ביז װײטיק, ביז איבער אַלע װײטיקן פֿון דער װעלט.

[…] אָן מײַן װילן, פֿון לאַנגװײליקײט, רוק איך זיך אָפּ פֿון מײַנע חבֿרים, פֿון צוג און איך גײ צום װעלדל, װאָס זעט זיך פֿון װײַטן. […] געענדיקט דאָס װעלדל און אָט אַ שאָסײ… אַ שאָסײ, און אויפֿן שאָסײ פֿיל, פֿיל מענטשן, גאַנצע מחנות. […] די איצטיקע מאַסע האָט זיך פּשוט אַרויסגעשאָטן פֿון װאַרשע און פֿון די דערבײַאיקע שטעט. די קאָמענדאַנטן פֿון דער מאַכט האָבן אַרויסגעגעבן באַפֿעלן, אַז די אַלע, װאָס אונטערליגן צו מיליטער־דינסט, זאָלן אַװעק, כּדי נישט אַרײַנצופֿאַלן צום שׂונא. אָבער אַרויסגעגאַנגען זענען נישט נאָר די װעלכע זענען געװען אין מיליטער־עלטער. עס זענען געגאַנגען אַלע, יונג און אַלט, געזונט און שװאַך. […] איך בין געגאַנגן מיט אַלעמען צוגלײַך. איך האָב געמוזט מיט זײ אַביסל גײן. זײער מאַרש האָט אין זײַן טראַגיזם אויסגעזען טיפֿער, מיסטישער, װי אונדזער קריכן מיט דעם צוג אין די שמוציקע װאַגאָנעס. איך האָב זיך געװאָלט אויף אַ רגע פֿאַראײניקן מיט די אַלע… […]

איך קוק אויף די אַלע מענטשן און װאָס װעט זײַן מיט זײ? װי װײַט װעלן זײ דערגײן? און װאָס װעט זײַן מיט מיר? איך דערמאָן זיך אָן מײַן צוג, װעלכן איך האָב דאָרט איבערלאָזן און אין דער רגע זעט עס מיר אויס, אַז אין צוג, בלויז אין צוג, איז מײַן רעטונג. איך נעם גײן צוריק צו מײַנע חבֿרים.

Our train was at a standstill, as if rooted. It was the middle of the day. Sunday, half warm, radiant as far as the eye could see. Everywhere silence and promise. Forget for a moment what the devil has brought into the world, then you will have a beautiful world before you. Autumn, nature is resting, people have only recently harvested the grain from the fields, taken the fruit from the gardens and gone to the feast… No! They are gone to kill, destroy and perish. The train stopped, the conductor and the fireman slept on the grass. No planes were seen. It was quiet. Quiet and boring until it hurt more than any pain in the world. […]

Without my will, out of boredom, I moved away from my friends, from the train, and went to the little forest that could be seen in the distance. Behind the wood was a country road… A country road, and on the country road were many, many people, whole crowds of people. These crowds came from Warsaw and the surrounding cities. The commanders of the authorities issued orders that all those who were subject to military service should leave so as not to fall into the hands of the enemy. But not only those of military age left. They all left, young and old, healthy and weak. I left with them. I had to go with them a little. Their march looked deeper, more mystical in its tragedy than our crawling in the dirty carriages. I wanted to unite with them right away.

I looked at all the people and what would become of them? How far will they get? And what will become of me? I remembered the train I left there and at that moment it seemed to me that in this train, in this train alone, is my salvation. I started to go back to my friends.

Zusman Segalovitsh (1884-1949), 11For biographical details see Cohen, Nathan: Segalovitsh, Zusman in: The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Segalovitsh_Zusman (25.9.2019). is considered one of the most popular Yiddish writers in Poland in the interwar period. He was one of the few Polish-Jewish writers who were able to get a seat on the so-called journalist train, which left Warsaw for Lublin on the night of September 5-6, 1939, to escape the German invasion and arrived in Vilnius on October 10, 1939. During the long, dangerous and erratic flight by train, Segalovitsh was also able to observe the immense flight movement on foot – two very different forms of flight, which not only separate the intellectual elite from other social classes, but, according to Segalovitsh, are also connected with different forms of community, hardship and tragedy.

Segalovitsh made it to Vilnius, where he stayed for two years. In 1941, he left Vilnius for the Soviet Union, from where he went to Palestine, and survived the Shoah. In 1948 he reached the USA, where he lived until his death in 1949.


  • 1For biographical details see Cohen, Nathan: Segalovitsh, Zusman in: The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Segalovitsh_Zusman (25.9.2019).

Excerpt from:

Segalovitsh, Zusman, 1946: Gebrente Trit : Eyndrikn un iberlebungen fun a plitim-vanderung,Buenos Aires: Tsentral-Farband fun poylishe yidn in Argentine, Chapter 4: Mentshn oyfn shosey…, 66–69.

From the Yiddish Book Center’s Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library.